Not unlike humans, as horses age their physical abilities slowly begin to diminish. Joints might not move quite as easily; little aches and pains might become more common; or recovering from a hard workout might take a little longer. But as veterinary technology advances, older horses' athletic careers are getting longer as well.
Last year, I was preparing for a combined test with Dorado (then 15 years old) when my former trainer and I agreed that he wasn't jumping quite right. Mentally he was all there, ready to go, but physically, something wasn't right.
We called our veterinarian to come have a look, suspecting that Dorado might finally be ready for some joint injections--something we'd been able to avoid previously through some careful management practices. When my vet arrived to evaluate, I also took the opportunity to pick his brain about his thoughts on my aging horse continuing in eventing.
After a quick physical exam, we carried out some flexion tests to see how his joints were functioning. Both hocks yielded positive tests (meaning they showed soreness), as did his right stifle. His forelegs didn't flex perfectly, but the rapidity at which he trotted out of his gimpy steps suggested they wouldn't need injections at that point.
We elected to inject two joints in each hock (there are four total per hock) and the stifle with hyaluronic acid (which is used to control inflammation and improve mobility). Because of Dorado's age, the degree of soreness he had in his hocks, and the five years of racing he partook in as a colt, my veterinarian said he was pretty comfortable injecting the joints without radiographing them. Since I was planning to attend a show at his farm in a few weeks' time, he also agreed to take a quick follow-up look at that point to ensure everything looked good.
He did stress, however, that if we ever elected to inject the front limbs--especially the fetlocks--he'd want to radiograph them first to ensure we hadn't missed any problems that could be further damaged as a result.
As far as whether or not Dorado could keep going for a few more years, our vet simply said, "Fifteen's not old. He'll tell you when he's old." Fair enough.
Within a few weeks, Dorado was working and jumping better than had in a long time.
Shortly after his injections, I also elected to find Dorado a new joint supplement. The one he'd been on had been working fine, but I opted to try one that included hyaluronic acid. I'm fully aware that there's not a lot of scientific evidence confirming or denying most nutriceuticals' beneficial effects on joints. That said, I'll fully admit that it makes me feel better that I'm at least trying to make his life a little easier, and I do think I notice an improvement compared to before he was consuming this supplement.
So until he tells me he's ready to stop, I'll continue helping Dorado keep going.
How do you keep your older horses going? Share your experiences below.